SOCIETY

Bartering platform offers a way to sidestep capital controls

bartering-platform-offers-a-way-to-sidestep-capital-controls

Stella makes photo albums for weddings and baptisms, which she trades for ground beef. Dellman services PCs and laptops in exchange for olive oil, Panayiota has a BMW she’d gladly trade for a small studio apartment in Athens, and Dimitris needs a small refrigerator which he’s willing to trade for nearly new children’s clothes.

“Only your imagination can set limits,” says Yiannis Deliyiannis, who, with a group of friends, set up tradenow.gr in early 2013, the first automated platform for swapping services and goods in Greece.

“Is there anything that can’t be swapped?” asks Deliyiannis. “Someone might not have any cash in his wallet but a watch or cell phone he doesn’t need. That’s like having 500 euros, with which he can get anything he wants.”

The site was launched as Greece entered the depths of the crisis and is even more popular today since the imposition of capital controls in the summer restricted Greeks’ purchasing power even further.

“We attracted a huge number of people after the capital controls were put in place,” says Deliyiannis. Registered members swelled to above 25,000 in the summer from 20,000 at the start of the year and more keep coming as an increasing number of people look for ways to acquire the things they need without having to spend cash.

The initial idea came about during a spontaneous exchange.

“A friend of mine wanted an energy-efficient fireplace in his house but couldn’t afford it. The technician offered to take his old fireplace in exchange for the materials for the new one and also offered him a discount on the installation,” explains Deliyiannis. “I was interested so we started looking at whether anything like that was happening elsewhere in the world. We found a number of similar initiatives, especially in the United States, where major trade networks have been developed between businesses looking to cut costs. So that’s how we came up with the idea of creating a community that would include all tiers of the economy, from individuals with goods and services to offer to businesses that could trade with other businesses while at the same time getting some publicity and selling their goods or services at a discount.”

Putting the idea into action led to all sorts of complications.

“The platform is interactive. When someone logs on asking for a bicycle and offering a watch, the site will automatically link them to everyone who wants a watch or is offering a bike. Then the different parties can haggle among themselves; it’s like each member is running a e-shop of their own.”

To make exchanges easier, the company has introduced a form of “currency,” a Trade Point, which reflects the value of the items or services on offer. So if someone wants to buy something that is of greater value than what they’re offering, they can make up the different with points (1 point equals 1 euro).

Membership to the site is free of charge for individuals and costs from 50 euros upward for companies, with a small commission fee when directed sales are made.

“It was hard at first to convince companies [mostly small and medium-sized] to join and build a profile. There were quite a few cases where we not only had to explain how bartering works but also had to actually explain the Internet,” says Deliyiannis. “Everything changes with the capital controls. People were obliged to do business without cash and so they soon saw the benefits.”

Companies usually swap promotional material like leaflets or banners, as well as office materials or services like security system installations. Among individuals, most of the exchanges involve cell phones and other IT gadgets, but also food.

“We have a butcher who got new tires for his car by offering meat, another guy who got his car serviced by offering a shower stall, and others who swapped cars for boats. Everything is possible,” says Deliyiannis.